Tracking Livestock Movement

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Concerns over a possible animal-disease emergency threatening U.S. livestock — including horses — have prompted the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to implement a trial program that would help track livestock movement between states. The six-state pilot project puts health information required for interstate livestock travel online, making it instantly accessible by health officials.

Such access would enable state animal-health officials to rapidly identify affected animals, allowing for a trace back within 48 hours or less that would aid in more quickly containing a contamination. The program is being implemented by the USDA’s Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health, part of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Veterinary Services program.

Foreign animal diseases linked to food animals like cows and pigs are the chief concern in the pilot, but horses also carry highly infectious diseases, too, such as equine infectious anemia. The program will not require you to tell government officials that you’re taking your horse out-of-state to a show or otherwise moving your horse. What it will do is enable the government to quickly identify and track owners of animals that could be affected in the event of an outbreak and immediately quarantine them, if necessary. It will also allow officials to quickly access your horse’s health information if you’re stopped and don’t have the proper health certificates handy.

California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin are voluntarily participating in the program that ends in summer 2004. Seven more volunteer states will come online in late summer 2004, with more coming forward in the future. The program is not anticipated to become mandatory, according to Kevin Maher, president, GlobalVetLink, the software supplier, because the USDA recognizes not all veterinarians are computer literate.

The program enables participating volunteer veterinarians to electronically file health certificates and Coggins tests needed for interstate and intrastate transportation of horses. Because owners will still receive hard copies of their horses’ documents, the new system will be largely transparent, but having online files will benefit those who lose or misplace their paperwork.

Veterinarians are the audience most affected by the program. Though the USDA is offering free access to the software used to electronically file the health documents, the extra time involved may cause some vets to bump their fees to clients.

Another reason for possible cost increases: filing digital pictures that identify the horse instead of a written description. Purchasing a digital camera and supplying digital-image files represent additional costs to the veterinarian. Clients may be able to supply their vet with digital pictures of their horses.

All states have regulations regarding the import of horses into their state. For questions regarding health certificates for any state, call 800-545-8732. For online state-by-state regulation information and the phone numbers of state veterinarians, go to www.globalvetlink.com and click on state regulations to search through states by region.

Some of the pilot-program states, including Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Texas, already regulate moving horses within the state.